October 12, 2004
Grogan's Grade: Week 4
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots dispatched the Dolphins 24-10 to claim their NFL record 19th consecutive win, but you would never know it from the subdued response of Patriots Nation. Has Bill Belichick imposed his mantra so thoroughly that winning has become a ho-hum kind of thing in New England?
Steve Grogan: I know I didn’t get an invitation to the victory party, did you? To me this is something you don’t celebrate now. It’s an amazing thing that they’ve done, there’s no question about that. But they also have a lot of work ahead of them and I think the fans understand that, too. Tom Brady summed it up best when he said the winning streak doesn’t do anything for them right now, that they still have to go out and keep winning to get back to the Super Bowl.
RRM: All that aside, as a former player you have either played against or seen many of the great NFL teams of the last 30 years. In your opinion where do the Patriots rank among them?
SG: This Patriots team is a very well run, well coached team, and they are as good as any team I have ever seen. They find a way to win, and the funny thing is 10 years ago in a game like this last one you would be waiting for them to do something wrong and lose the game. Now you just sit back and wait for them to do something right or force the other team to make the game-deciding mistake. You don’t even worry about it any longer. That’s the mentality this team has and it’s filtered down to their fans.
RRM: The attitude of this Patriots team was clearly expressed by Rodney Harrison. Despite forcing a fumble that set up the game-clinching score in the third quarter, all he could talk about was the late hit he got called for that wiped out a Richard Seymour sack and how that was going to bother him all week long. You just don’t hear players on other teams talking about stuff like that when they win a game.
SG: Every player on this roster keeps trying to get better, and that’s why they keep winning. The Patriots clearly didn’t play their best football game against the Dolphins but they did enough to win, and that’s kind of the way things have gone during this streak. It’s not like they are head and shoulders better than everybody else in the league, but they find some kind of edge that enables them to win football games and right now no other team is able to do that.
RRM: The Patriots offense generated only 204 yards of total offense yet managed to score 24 points against a tough Dolphins defense. Ironically that is the most points they have scored against Miami in a regulation game in five years!
SG: Go figure!! It wasn’t a pretty game to watch but they got the job done against a Miami team that has a pretty tough defense and perhaps one of the worst offenses in the National Football League. On offense I thought the Patriots played it pretty close to the vest. With Troy Brown, Deion Branch, and Bethel Johnson out, they only had two receivers that really knew the offense. I think their plan was to just bang Corey Dillon at them often and not make any mistakes that would allow Miami a chance to be in the game. When Dillon left the game with the bad ankle, the Patriots really got conservative, so it appeared to me they never had any intentions of coming out and winging it against the Dolphins.
RRM: I thought Miami would take a conservative approach on offense to try and allow their defense to win the game for them but instead they took some risks on offense that ended up costing them. Why do you think Dave Wannstedt took that route?
SG: When you are not winning like the Dolphins are, the tendency is to try and do too much, and that’s getting them in even more trouble. They threw the ball way too much, their punter made an incredibly stupid mistake, and their defense is trying to be physical but got too aggressive and committed some untimely penalties. All those things happen when you are losing. You end up over-coaching and over-playing and you don’t just let your instincts take over, and you just end up digging yourself a bigger hole.
I thought it was a questionable to call to drop Jay Fiedler back to throw when they had that ball on the Patriots one-yardline with a chance to cut the lead to seven points. I don’t know what was going through Wannstedt’s head, but when you’ve been having trouble protecting your quarterback all day why do you try to throw on your own one-yardline? Fiedler ended up getting sacked by Harrison and that was the last really good chance the Dolphins had all day.
RRM: What exactly happened to Miami punter Matt Turk on that play at the end of the first half?
SG: It looked to me like the snap came to him before he was ready and the ball was off to his left by about three feet. When you are moving left as a punter to catch a ball that is that far away from you it’s hard to get yourself squared up again to get a foot on the ball. If the snap had been to his right being a right-footed kicker he probably would have gone ahead and gotten it off. The replay showed he had time to kick the ball but I think he panicked a little and when he thought he saw an opening to his left he tried to make a big play. But it turned out to be a stupid play because it ended up giving the Patriots a touchdown right before halftime and instead of a 10-7 lead they went in with a 10-point lead, and that was almost an impossible deficit for the Miami offense to make up.
RRM: This was far from Tom Brady’s finest performance, as he completed only seven of 19 throws for a mere 76 yards but he did have two touchdown passes. What did you think of his performance?
SG: I know Brady missed his first four passes and he didn’t complete a pass in the second half, but I really didn’t think that told the whole story. Miami has had one of the best pass defenses for awhile now and I thought they covered very well. I also counted at least four dropped passes including one by David Patten that would have been a long completion. You don’t see the Patriots receivers doing that too often but when it happens it makes the quarterback look bad, but I really didn’t think Brady played that poorly.
RRM: This marked the second straight game where the Patriots didn’t continually rotate men on the offensive line and it seemed to pay off in this contest.
SG: The offensive line protected Brady very well and although he was hit a few times Miami only sacked him once. It’s also fun to watch an offensive line that knows how to run block. Corey Dillon is a good back but a runner can’t gain yardage unless he has some holes to run through, and this Patriots’ offensive line is doing a heck of a job. Dillon was such a threat that when the Patriots used play action they effectively froze the Dolphins defense, and that is what allowed the Patriots’ receivers to get so wide open. They’ve added an entirely different dimension to their offense, which is going to make Tom Brady even better.
RRM: Although he only touched the ball four times it was nice to see Kevin Faulk back on the field for the Patriots.
SG: It was good to get him back and he made a big contribution with that 14-yard screen pass that set up the Patriots’ touchdown at the end of the first half. You get him in an open field and he can do a lot of things. If Dillon’s injured ankle doesn’t come around I feel a lot more comfortable with him being in there than anyone else they have at running back.
RRM: You really did need a program to follow all the players on the field for the Patriots. Let’s see, among the new names there was Randall Gay, Kevin Kasper, Dexter Reid, and Rabih Abdullah. Did I leave anyone out?
SG: There were a lot of players out there I was not familiar with. Kasper played a lot and he was only signed on Wednesday so you know he couldn’t have the grasp of the entire offense. On defense there were a bunch of young guys I never head of who were making plays, like Randall Gay who made the interception that got the Patriots rolling early. Of course the reason they have a lot of young guys playing is because they have a lot of guys banged up, but this is a team that just never seems to be bothered by injuries.
RRM: Supposedly Bethel Johnson was not held out of the game due to injury so there has to be some story here that no one knows.
SG: It’s purely speculation at this point but it appears he did something that made Bill Belichick angry so he just didn’t activate him for the game. So the lesson is, don’t get Belichick mad at you!
RRM: Now for the really important question of the week, will it be the Red Sox or Yankees this year in the ALCS?
SG: I’m picking the Red Sox to win in seven games, though I don’t have any hard data to back that up. I just think winning has gotten contagious around here and it’s rubbed off on the baseball team and this will be the year they get it done.
RRM: It will certainly make for a great doubleheader for Boston sports fans on Sunday, with the Patriots-Seahawks at 1 PM followed by the Red Sox-Yankees at 4 PM.
SG: That’s right, I had forgotten about that! I think my wife will be ready to divorce me with all the time I’ve been spending in front of the TV watching baseball and football in October. But if you are a Boston sports fan this is the kind of weekend you live for and we’re going to enjoy every minute of it.
RRM: Speaking of those previously unbeaten Seattle Seahawks, they blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Rams at home on Sunday and lost their first game of the season. Does that work against us or in our favor for this Sunday?
SG: I’m sure Seattle will be fired up and ready to play when they come to Foxboro on Sunday but they will have some doubts in the back of their minds. That’s just a natural thing that happens when you have a game like that, and you can’t help but wonder if you have all of those problems corrected. The Seahawks are a good football team so this will be a good challenge for the Patriots.
RRM: This will be the first quality opponent the Patriots have faced since the opening week of the season. What’s the game plan for Seattle?
SG: I hadn’t seen Seattle play much before last Sunday and I was really impressed with their running back Shaun Alexander. I assume Alexander is what the Patriots will try and take away. He is the kind of back that hesitates to wait for a hole to open up, so it is going to be really important for the defense to swarm him and not give him time for that hole to open up because he can accelerate quickly. Matt Hasselbeck is a good quarterback but the Seahawk receivers seem to have a lot of problems with catching the ball, so if you can neutralize their running game it will give the Patriots a great shot at extending their winning streak to 20 games.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the record-breaking win over the Dolphins in Week #4?
SG: I'm giving out straight B’s all around for this game. It was not a great effort but it was above average and they got the job done despite having a bunch of players out due to injury. I thought it was nice to see Vince Wilfork play a really good game with seven tackles and it’s been encouraging to watch him improve each week. I’m not too worried about how they played in this game because I thought the coaching staff figured they would win this game and they weren’t going to put players out there that were banged up with the big game against Seattle coming up. It will be very interesting to see the kind of effort they put forth this week as the level of competition steps us considerably with the Seahawks.
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